Beck: No Cursive Writing Enslaves Children

Beck: No Cursive Writing Enslaves Children October 9, 2013

Glenn Beck’s latest inane conspiracy theory is that if the schools don’t teach cursive writing anymore, that’s part of an attempt to enslave children. He even claims, without evidence, that they’re not teaching kids to type (in a world full of computers?) or even to read.


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  • thinkfree83

    I find it depressing that even neutral things like cursive are being politicized. I think there are practical reasons to learn cursive, but Beck is simply doing a disservice to his cause. If you want to keep cursive alive, you should write letters longhand and find snail mail pen pals who share your enthusiasm. I have met many international atheists and secularists through my snail mail activities, and I would bet money that their cursive would blow Beck’s out of the water (I have a pen pal from Iceland who’s cursive looks like something out of the Declaration of Independence. It’s amazing).

  • Do you know who else didn’t teach children cursive writing? That’s right: Hitler!

  • unbound

    Good riddance to cursive. Although I would need to take some powerful drugs to accept the claim that getting rid of cursive is somehow making people slaves. What drugs does Beck take to get to that conclusion?

    Typing is a required class in middle school, although Beck may not understand that it is called “keyboarding” since nobody uses typewriters anymore.

    No clue about his stance that the kids aren’t being taught to read anymore. I’d have to defer to the drugs again for that one…

  • pHred

    So my son has been practicing stringing his letters together in this strange curly format because he pulled it out of thin air ?

    OTOH – I approve of Beck being kept far, far away from children and schools so the fact that he has no idea what is going on in there is a good sign.

  • I was just about to say the same thing @unbound. Good riddance! We don’t teach how to use an abacus any more either.

    We certainly should be teaching typing though I question Beck’s fact that schools aren’t. Typing is one of the skills that has replaced the need for cursive.

  • @ thinkfree83 #1 – I disagree about the need to learn cursive: it is easier and faster to read and write block letters than to manage all the superfluous loops and swirls of joined-up writing. I believe that cultivating a legible italic will serve most people much better.

    Otherwise, yes. Along with all of the other things that the US is declining in, it has become much more common to use a computer and print out than to actually write by hand, which is a shame. We are becoming a society that can read (barely) but is unable to write.

  • oranje

    Hey, I love teaching handwriting as much as anyone. I’m a fountain pen person, and I’m a bit sad to see that component of the human canon die. But I also understand why. I watch what kids are doing now in schools, and it’s generally irrelevant to their lives. Glenn, of course, is generally rational about anything changing, so this reaction is in line with his ethos.

  • colnago80

    Re oranje @ #7

    I think you meant irrational, not rational.

  • Mr Ed

    thinkfree83I find it depressing that even neutral things like cursive are being politicized.

    rage and righteous indignation are the new horror movie. Instead of going to the cinema to see the Wolfman or Freddie Kruger we tune in Fox or Beck. They really aren’t that different both play to primal emotions, both stimulate hormone release and neither requires any thought . You want to feel something but don’t want hockey masked killers jumping out of closets then tune in right wing rage.

  • thinkfree83

    @Gregory – I think I should add that I think that given the way schools are going, where many simply “teach to the test,” that parents should try to teach their children skills that they think are being neglected. So if someone doesn’t like that their public elementary school doesn’t teach cursive, they should do it themselves. There are many affordable method books on Amazon and other places, and there are communities of fountain pen collectors that have online libraries about how to improve your handwriting. I agree that learning italic might be more easier and more utilitarian to learn. I tried to learn italic, but it didn’t work for me, so I’m just sticking with cursive.

    One problem I do have with not learning cursive is that it will render the contents of archives unreadable. The vast majority of documents in archives are handwritten, so if you can’t read cursive, then it becomes impossible to read things that were written even a few decades ago. Maybe graduate schools could offer classes in cursive recognition, so people who need to use primary documents for their research could continue to do so.

  • dogmeat

    The problem is schools are required to teach more and more at the same time they are required to test over and over again. While the elementary schools in the last two districts I worked in do teach cursive, I could see where a struggling school might focus on math and reading to the exclusion of such mechanical activities. I’ve had students arrive at the high school level who couldn’t read a map and who had little to no knowledge of global relations in concert with little snippets of anecdotal history about various parts of the world. The reason? They spent most of their time on the subjects that were on the standardized tests. It isn’t that the school didn’t teach the other subjects, it’s that they focused their care and concern about the subjects that were integral to what the state’s standardized tests said were important and the kids picked up on that.

    At the high school level, I’ve worked collaboratively with the staff from two dozen schools over the last five years. Not one includes typing or basic computer skills as classes/skills that they teach. That includes the numerous all laptop schools I’ve worked with. It isn’t that they don’t want to or don’t recognize the importance, it’s that they don’t have the funding to do so. If you’ve got an incoming class of 500 kids, even if you jam 35 kids in each class (really bad idea) you’re talking 15 sections. That’s three full time teachers, plus benefits. Average US salary, $41,000, with benefits say $65,000. In the current economic environment, with all of the demands placed upon schools and the efforts to shift funding to private sector “alternatives,” coming up with $200,000 to teach kids to type, in most communities, not happening.

    Beck, as always, is a deranged idiot; at the same time he is arguing against the impact of the policies he supports in the first place. Oh yeah, deranged idiot.

  • oranje

    @8: Yeah, I’m angry and decaffeinated this morning, so my snark is a bit more bitter. And oblique. You reflect my intentions, yes.

  • I find it depressing that even neutral things like cursive are being politicized. I think there are practical reasons to learn cursive

    Yes. And I think that at least part of what’s driving the political side of this is that cursive is a signifier for the way things were in the idealized past. So I’d expect the demise of cursive to be more troubling to conservatives.

  • regexp

    They were phasing out cursive writing when I was in high school in the 80s so therefor it must be Reagan fault. But seriously – the most useful class I ever took in high school/grade school was learning how to type (“keyboarding”). That skill has paid itself off a million times. Cursive serves no useful purpose in todays world.

  • So teaching kids is slavery, and now NOT teaching them is also slavery. “Deranged idiot” is a charitable term for someone like Beck.

    And the fact that someone so ignorant, incoherent, insane, and just plain all-around fucking USELESS still has a radio show, speaks volumes about America’s privately-owned media. A country that gets its best information from a network owned by a backward feudal lord on the other side of the planet, is a country in serious trouble.

  • David Marjanović

    Ah, the strange American discussion about cursive. I recommend this post and the 15 comments to it.

  • robnyny

    Cursive has a complicated history.

    My mother went to Catholic schools in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, and learned only cursive. She didn’t learn to print until she went to teacher’s college. In Russia, only cursive is taught in schools.

    On the other hand, there are countries that have given up their historical alphabets (or other written languages) in favor of the Roman alphabet. Two examples that come to mind are Turkey and Vietnam.

    On the third other hand, Mormons like Beck base their religion on a fake alphabet invented by a grifter from New York. If only that script had been preserverd, Mormons could have shows that their religion is something other tha bullshit.

  • abb3w

    @7ish, oranje

    Hey, I love teaching handwriting as much as anyone. I’m a fountain pen person, and I’m a bit sad to see that component of the human canon die.

    It seems exceedingly unlikely go extinct. It does, however, seem likely to head to the nature preserves of antiquarian hobbyists, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism and the like.

    Perhaps calligraphy could made a standard part of K-12 art curricula? I can imagine multiple benefits to that approach.

  • robnyny

    Oh, and German cursive from about 1910 to 1970, called Suetterlinschrift, is totally unreadable by younger Germans. I had to learn it for a translating gig, but it’s basically impossilble because there are only about 6 different letter forms that stand for 30 letters. (German has more letters than English.)

  • oranje

    @13: You knocked it out of the park with that.

    @18: I almost mentioned that and then forgot. Extinction is indeed very unlikely. More like sealing wax and stationery, it will go to the realm of being done by choice rather than as mass-produced, essential communication. More likely to be an art, yes. My hope is that letter-writing, and not just the function but the artistry of presentation, moves more into that realm. Because getting a letter that isn’t only awesome in content, but also presentation, is a pretty damn good day.

  • Dr X “Yes. And I think that at least part of what’s driving the political side of this is that cursive is a signifier for the way things were in the idealized past. So I’d expect the demise of cursive to be more troubling to conservatives.”

    Lies! Only liberals used cursive writing. Even way back in the 1950s, the Founding Fathers printed, poorly, in jiffy marker on signs. Then the King of Britain struck back with the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, when he dumped the Tea Partiers into Boston harbor.

    Also, Conservatives are only against getting rid of cursive because they’re against everything. Especially if it’s for reasons!

  • jnorris

    And…and…and then the schools Force the kids to color OUTSIDE the lines!!!

  • eric

    Gregory @6:

    Along with all of the other things that the US is declining in, it has become much more common to use a computer and print out than to actually write by hand, which is a shame. We are becoming a society that can read (barely) but is unable to write.

    Uh? I think the most important point of ‘learning to write’ is being able to express oneself using the written word, not learning the motor skills associated with manipulating a pen by hand. Is Stephen Hawking unable to write? Maybe in a trivial sense, but not in any important sense. The kids who learn keyboarding today are ‘learning to write’ in the most important sense of the term.

    Having said that, I think it’s still pretty critical that everyone learn to be able to write without needing a keyboard to do it. We aren’t a paperless society yet, and handwriting is still a daily-use skill.

  • smhll


    I learned calligraphy at an SCA weekend “university”. And, I don’t think schools in the US have much budget for art any more. Or music. There have been some pretty major cuts.

  • oranje

    @23: I agree with that sentiment. It’s still written communication, though on the other side of that coin, having taught it on the college level for the last decade, that skill is declining. I don’t think the two are related, though.

    But I do have an easier time with my own writing jotting down ideas in a notebook as I go, and I’ve never been able to turn to digital means for the same thing. Tried, but failed.

  • william boyd
  • robnyny

    For eric:

    Cursive is not the same has writing. I learned cursive when I was six, and it has been completely useless. I work with a client who literally cannot read his own cursive handwriting. I beg him to type so that I have half a chance of understanding it (his spelling is as bad as his cursive: “I want to cut it in have.”) I can print exactly as fast as I write cursive, and much more legibly. And I can type twice as fast. Writing is writing.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Oh, it’s worse than that. Cuneiform hasn’t been taught in schools within living memory except as a footnote in the History side of social studies. And how many kids are there with passable hieroglyphics these days? I don’t think they even teach making flint hand-axes any more!

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    David, from your link:

    should have waited until I finish reading the thread. apparently, to Americans “cursive” really does mean a very specific, formulaic (and dare I say, fugly) script. I suppose if you combine that with late learning, plus seriously anal-retentive teachers, I can see how people would dislike it and find it useless.

    *slow clap*

  • thinkfree83

    The form of writing that a person will find “useful” on a daily basis will differ from person to person. When I’m starting out on a writing project, I usually begin on paper, because I find that trying to bring something out of nothing, so to speak, on a blank computer screen to be daunting. I also like jotting down ideas on paper, so none of my “great ideas” are forgotten before I can commit them to a Word file. I take notes on paper too, since it’s too easy for me to get distracted on a computer. However, when I look at the manuscripts from the days of typewriters, covered with white-out, taped in additions, and over-typed (and illegible) words, I’m thankful that I live in an era of MS Word.

    I think the real problem with the writing abilities of American students is not whether they should learn cursive, typing, or some mix of the two. It’s that many students are unable to clearly express themselves in writing, whether it’s on paper or on a screen. This is a common complaint that employers, teachers, and professors have about the younger generation. Does anyone know why this is the case? I know that many standardized tests now have writing portions in an attempt to change this, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good.

  • “What drugs does Beck take to get to that conclusion?”

    Years and years of heavy alcohol. Then sudden withdrawal from said alcohol, replaced with Mormonism.

  • Perhaps calligraphy could made a standard part of K-12 art curricula? I can imagine multiple benefits to that approach.

    I’m quite sure that if you did that, the Glenn Becks of the country would declare it to be part of the commie-enslavement conspiracy without a hint of irony. There’s a reason why they’ve zeroed out the arts and music budgets.

  • caseloweraz

    You know what else isn’t being taught any more? Morse code! The right to di-dah-dit is the right to be free!

    (I started off thinking about the “lost art” of blacksmithing. The catch phrase would have been “The right to shoe horses…” But Morse code woks better.)

    Personally, I’m proud of being able to read and write cursive, as well as to decipher Morse (poor though I am at the latter.) But I agree there are more important things to be taught these days than cursive handwriting.

  • zekehoskin

    You use what you know best. If kids can keyboard well enough to think at the same time, they’re better off that I am in that way. But really – why are we so squeamish about being weaned off the QWERTY keyboard? Its is HARD to learn Stenotype, but quadrupling everybody’s typing speed for the rest of their lives would surely be worth it. (This from a person who once spent exactly the maximum amount of time learning shorthand without quite getting it faster than cursive.)

  • slavdude

    thinkfree83 @10:

    I think some do. IIRC, it was possible for grad students in the History Department at my graduate alma mater (not-MIT in Cambridge) who were studying medieval or early-modern Europe to have classes in how to read, for example, German scribal hand, which looks like shorthand.

  • exdrone

    caseloweraz @33,

    I’m surprised that Morse code came up, but it became a big issue in the Canadian Army’s Signal Corps and probably also with Allied armies. Canadian Army radio operators all learned Morse code as signallers and had to attain a certain proficiency in order to be promoted to Corporal. It was a difficult skill to master, and it became a real right-of-passage to pass the promotion test. Although voice and messaging communication systems surpassed the need for Morse, we held onto the skillset during the Cold War because it was always considered to be a useful fallback in order to burn through enemy jamming. With the adoption of automatic Morse code systems and noise-tolerant communication technologies, it was eventually decided that the capability was no longer worth the training time, so the skill was abandoned. But it was not a decision that was accepted easily, because of the commitment and tradition involved. Still, I don’t think we’re missing anything substantial with the loss of the capability, and people can always learn it on their own, such as HAMs, if they wish. I see many parallels between this and cursive writing.

  • exdrone

    By the way, what happens to signatures in a world without cursive writing? Admittedly, people end up scrawling something unrecognizable when they sign, but they typically start out writing their names when they are young. Do we go back to an age when people “made their mark”?

  • lpetrich

    I was taught cursive, but it was hard for many people to read.

    But I read an article about italic handwriting, and I adopted that style. My handwriting improved enormously. Nowadays, I use that whenever I want to write something that others will have to read. I remember once being praised for it: “your handwriting is very good for a guy”. It’s much easier to tell where letters begin and end when they are separate.

    Italic is a good compromise between block and cursive, and I think that it should be a good handwriting “hand” to start with. It’s good that many schools are now teaching it. Cursive we should leave to calligraphy buffs.

    As to the argument that it’s necessary for reading old documents written in cursive, I fail to see the relevance. Most of us won’t be studying the original versions of old documents, and anyone who wants to read them can learn as they go.

  • Eh, I had (and still have) a hard enough time with good old printing due to fine motor control issues. I’ve been typing since, like, forever. Well… at least long enough that it’s a bit jarring to hear it called “keyboarding”.

  • So, um, cursive? Cursive was (still is) right out.

  • sugarfrosted

    @2 ModusOperandi. Well as a little historical tidbit, the Nazis did kind of get rid of the fraktur script in publishing. Oh dear, Glenn Beck is right.